Black lawmakers sound alarm on Haitian migrant treatment

CBC members met with White House officials over images they said depicted ‘the most deplorable, unspeakable abuses’ of migrants

Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., center, speaks at a news conference Wednesday on the treatment of Haitian immigrants at the U.S. border in Texas.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., center, speaks at a news conference Wednesday on the treatment of Haitian immigrants at the U.S. border in Texas. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Posted September 22, 2021 at 8:00pm

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with White House officials on Wednesday to urge better treatment of Haitian migrants, adding their voice to a growing number of Democrats condemning the actions of border agents depicted in now-viral images.

The lawmakers signaled deep concern with recent photos and videos, which appeared to show Border Patrol agents on horseback using the ends of reins to control crowds of mostly Haitian migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border near Del Rio, Texas.

“I articulated the legal rights of the Haitian migrants and made it emphatically clear that those seeking asylum are not to be struck by those on Horses and that other legal rights must be protected!” tweeted Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, after the meeting.

In addition to Jackson Lee, others at the White House meeting were CBC Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio; Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.; House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; and four other lawmakers.

“This week, we've witnessed some of the most deplorable, unspeakable abuses of Haitian migrants seeking asylum at our border,” Beatty said in a tweet after the meeting. “@TheBlackCaucus is demanding answers & policy changes to ensure America remains a beacon of hope for refugees. Asylum is and always will be a human right.”

The lawmakers met with domestic policy adviser Susan Rice; Cedric Richmond, public engagement director and a former CBC chairman; and Tina Flournoy, chief of staff to Vice President Kamala Harris, who a day earlier called the images “horrible” and expressed her support for an investigation.

At a press conference later, Jackson Lee called the Congressional Black Caucus “the conscience and the defenders of Black people in the United States and Black people around the world.”

“We are their strength and barrier,” she said, adding that White House officials were “sensitive and responsive” to their concerns during the meeting.

The gathering of thousands of Haitian migrants under the Del Rio bridge has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to deploy additional resources to the area and arrange multiple deportation flights to Haiti, a Caribbean island that has suffered a combination of natural disasters and political instability, including the recent assassination of its president. 

[Democrats support probe into border altercation with Haitians]

House Democratic committee leaders have since escalated efforts to hold the Biden administration accountable for its handling of Haitian migrants.

Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Meeks urged the administration to institute a humanitarian moratorium on deportation flights to Haiti.

“We are troubled by the plan to repatriate thousands of people to Haiti, despite the instability, violence, and devastation that continue to plague the country,” they said in a statement Wednesday.

And top lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked the acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner, Troy A. Miller, for “immediate action” and a briefing.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told members of a Senate committee he was “horrified” by the images circulating of Border Patrol agents, but said he would let an investigation reveal what happened.

DHS has said the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the situation and has notified the department’s inspector general’s office.